…The mayhem that ensued could not possibly be duplicated unless by a natural disaster. Kids were climbing over kids, pushing heads down into the water, feet connecting with faces to get at the fish. One kid on their team got a busted lip, which only served to escalate the mad frenzy. A kind of constant shrieking filled the air as girls screamed that their legs had been grazed by the little maneaters. At one point, even I became obsessed with trying to collect one who had been attempting to take refuge around my thighs. I snatched at him again and again in my red Solo cup, but he was a clever one, and I was out of my league.
When a flash of red from a cup that was not my own darted in, trapping the guy to my leg, I froze. And then, quick as a whip, the cup was rocketed upwards, above the surface, where the owner showed me—for just a peek—that she had been victorious. It was Karyn. She gave me a quick wink and a smile, and then she was gone as fast as she had come, like Daryl Hannah in Splash. In a daze, I watched as she instantly grew legs and hopped out of the pool, sloshing her way toward her team’s collection bucket.
“Nice suit,” came Amy’s flat voice beside me. With my eyes still glued on Karyn, I realized what Amy was talking about. There, in full view of us all, was Karyn in a two-piece. Not a bikini, mind you—that would have been way too obvious. It was one of those short tank-top styled suits. Whatever it was, her extraordinarily flat tummy was on display for all to see. Suddenly, Amy’s suit made sense.
“Didn’t they have rules?” I asked distantly.
Amy kicked one foot out of the water as she changed to a floating position. Just then, Scott came out of nowhere, tackling me from behind. I screamed as he pulled me under.
“Why aren’t you fishing?” He yelled at me when I came up again.
“I tried! They’re too fast!”
“Excuses, excuses! Besides, they’re slowing down. They’re easier now,” he laughed. “Get to work!”
“Slowing down? You mean they’re… dying?”
I hadn’t thought of that—as if goldfish would thrive in a highly chlorinated environment. I began searching the waters in a futile effort to save whatever I could find. Finally, I spied an orange flash by one of the filters. Quickly, I darted in for the big save.
Carefully, I climbed out of the pool and began a slow walk toward our team’s bucket. The goldie in my cup was just barely wiggling. I considered taking him to the bathroom and dousing him with some fresh water, but I wasn’t so sure that would work either. It was, quite simply, too late.
“Come on! Get over here with your fish!” I heard a familiar voice yelling at me, breaking my eye lock with the dying fish. I squinted at the girl with slicked back hair and gesticulating wildly at me. It was Darla.
Darla’s claim to fame was her ability to sing all of the lyrics from anything Salt ‘N Peppa ever wrote. She also sported a perm and an impressive tidal wave of bangs, which threatened to crash forward were it not for the expert application of Aqua Net. Her most notable Youth Group moment was one night when she caught her hair on fire when she got too close to a candle. As she was dripping wet, I hadn’t recognized her without her signature wall o’ bangs.
“I’m coming!” I called to her, picking up my step a little. Giving in to the moment, I added my little dying fishy to the rest of them. Perhaps he would find comfort there.
“49!” She yelled. “We’ve got 49!” Numbers were demanded from the other side.
A cheer went up from both sides. There was one left. People began diving off the sides around the perimeter of the pool in search of the illusive goldfish. Darla began her human beat box and started rapping out Push It. It was a free for all. I watched as arms and legs began flailing. The whole place had gone mad. In the noise, I shrank back against the wall and hugged my arms to my body. How were we going to set a Christ-like example when we were behaving like this?
At that point one of the guys let out a mighty yelp and yelled, “Chick fight!” All eyes zoomed to the corner of the pool where two girls were splashing and wrestling. Several of the girls covered their mouths with their hands. A bunch of the guys got up on the edge of the pool where they could get a better view. Matt and one of our visitors dove in to separate the girls—an action which caused yet another minor eruption, this time between the two guys.
Just then there was a squeal of delight from Travis, one of the junior highers who was famous for his artistic renditions of the Apocalypse. He jumped out of the pool with Solo cup in hand under the hateful glares of Amy and Karyn, both panting heavily in the shallow end. And then, as if to add emphasis to his glory, he grabbed a pen from off one of the chairs and in full sight of us all, speared that little guy like a marlin. It only twitched a little.
There was silence in the room for several stunned seconds. And then, a mighty roar from our side of the pool. It was deafening. And that’s when she did it.
Realizing what she was about to do, the place once again got eerily quiet. All eyes were fixed on Karyn, standing over her team’s bucket. Without taking her eyes off Amy, she reached into her bucket and held up a goldfish. Then, in sight of us all, she put it in her mouth, and swallowed it. A respectful gasp was raised by the boys around her. Some of the girls said they were going to be sick. Pastor Mark, beside me, said quietly, “Well, I’ll be.” Donna began whispering something violently in his ear.
Just then, a movement caught my eye. It was Amy, marching slowly toward our bucket where a few of the boys were contemplating one-uping Karyn.
“Nobody touch it,” Amy commanded.
They shrank away, understanding that this battle wasn’t theirs to win. No, it wasn’t theirs to win. Quickly and deliberately, she marched past me without making eye contact and walked straight up to that bucket. Her hand darted in without hesitation. When she pulled it back out, I could see that she had not one, but two wiggling goldfish in her clutches. She lifted first one then the other over her tilted-back head, swallowing them down like a scantily clad seal. As if to add insult to injury, it was cold out of the water and I could not help but notice that Amy’s swimsuit also came sans lining. Donna noticed, too, and ran up to her with an open towel. But Amy’s concentration would not be broken. The poorly attached towel quickly slid down her torso and landed with a flop in a pool of water at her feet.
A cheer rang out once again. Guys were slapping each other high fives. Girls were darting in and out of the bathroom where they were “going to be sick” but just couldn’t seem to allow themselves to miss out. I didn’t know what to do.
Not about to be shown up by her arch-nemesis, Karyn reached back in the bucket and pulled out another goldfish and put it away like an M&M. Another cheer.
Back and forth they went, swallowing one after another while the rest of us kept count. It was 15 and 15 when somebody shouted from our side the shocking news that Amy had just chewed the last one. Karyn followed her lead, stuffing two in her mouth at once and chomping them down, grinding them slowly with her teeth for emphasis. Then Amy took two. Then Karyn took one more.
The final count before both Karyn and Amy bolted as fast as they could into the girls’ locker room was 23 goldfish each, of which 13 had been chewed by Amy, and 14 by Karyn.
When the retching slowed down from Amy’s stall, I tapped on the door. She unlatched the lock and let me in. To my disappointment, she still had a wild look in her eye. I had expected to find a wasted, drained shell of a young woman. Or at the very least, the mildly penitent shell of a young woman. I tried not to stare at a sparkly scale caught between her front teeth.
“Was it worth it?” I asked.
“You know it,” she laughed, still charged with the excitement of the recent fin-o-cide. She pushed me on the shoulder a little. A gut wrenching noise sounded from a couple of stalls down.
“Ha ha! Take that you miserable cheat!” Amy yelled through the metal dividing walls.
Just then a bunch of girls came rushing in the locker room. Apparently the contest had not ended in the two girls’ absence.
“You shoulda’ seen him!” Christine informed me, her face all aglow from the excitement. “Scott just chewed eight! So gross,” she added with a delicious smile.
I felt sick. Had the whole world gone mad? And even though I knew I couldn’t throw up—I still wanted to. Instead, I grabbed my bag out of the locker and headed for one of the stalls. One that didn’t stink of goldfish puke.
I had barely finished getting dressed when I heard Donna’s voice in the locker room telling everybody that we needed to get dressed and get out. Apparently there was some sort of misunderstanding with the management.
I didn’t wait for Amy. Or Scott, for that matter. Instead, I marched straight past the door where Mark and Boone were busy arguing with the director of the camp.
“Well, no,” he was telling them, “There is no sign stating that goldfish are not allowed in the pool. I would think that such behavior would fall under the common knowledge category.”
“Look,” Mark interrupted him in his most calm, reasonable voice, “we were trying to demonstrate to our teens to be fishers of men, like our Lord Jesus Christ.” There was a pause from the man at the door as he attempted to formulate how exactly to respond to that.
I took the opportunity to push past them out into the night air. Outside, the mountain air was cool and crisp and the stars blazed so plentiful and bright that I soon found myself overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. I was so tiny. So very, very tiny.